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Proposal Would Keep People From Filing "Wrongful Birth" Lawsuits
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

PARIS, FRANCE, Jan. 16, 2002 --The French National Assembly passed a bill Thursday that lawmakers say would stop people with disabilities from filing so-called "wrongful birth" lawsuits against doctors for allowing them to be born. The proposal now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to become law before the end of February.

More on 'wrongful birth'

The new law states that "nobody can claim to have been harmed simply by being born". It would still allow parents to sue doctors if they made a "blatant error" and failed to diagnose a serious illness in a fetus or a pregnant woman.

"This is a very important decision," Xavier Mirabel, head of France's National Union of Associations of Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped, told reporters on Friday. "French society can no longer consider a disabled person to be a mistake."

The measure is in response to criticism the government has faced following three recent rulings by France's highest court to allow people with disabilities to sue doctors for failing to diagnose a disability -- or inform their mothers that they might have a disability -- before they were born.

In November 2000, the court ruled that Nicolas Perruche could sue his mother's physicians because they had not detected that she had caught rubella, a virus similar to the measles, during her 1983 pregnancy. Because of her infection, Nicolas was born blind, deaf and has mental retardation.

Nicolas' parents said that they would have had him aborted if they had known he would have disabilities.

The court made similar rulings this past July and again in November.

Those decisions outraged disability rights groups who said that the court believed that "it is better to be dead than handicapped".

Doctors who specialize in treating pregnant women were also angered by those rulings. They claimed that they would now be forced to pressure mothers into having abortions when there is any risk of a child being born with a disability. They also point out that their insurance premiums have multiplied by 10 times since the Perruche ruling just 14 months ago.

It was the doctors -- not disability rights advocates -- that forced parliament to push through the new legislation. Earlier this year, physicians began to strike in protest. They refused to do ultrasounds or any other tests designed to detect disabilities or illnesses in a fetus.

The fact that the doctors' strike led to the emergency legislation has reinforced the belief among some advocates that the government primarily cares about keeping children with disabilities from being born.

"We deplore the rationale on which the parliament has acted, which was not to eliminate discriminatory action but to facilitate the abortion of disabled children," Paul Tully, executive director of the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told Cybercast News Service.

"We support the substance of the move, but we would like to see an end to the screening and abortion of disabled babies," Tully said.

Related stories are available at this Inclusion Daily Express webpage: http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/advocacy/wrongfulbirths.htm

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